NFL Draft: Four more ND players selected
Brian Hartnett | Friday, May 9, 2014
After the Dallas Cowboys selected former Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin in the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday, four more former Irish players were selected on the second day of the draft. Former Irish defensive end Stephon Tuitt and tight end Troy Niklas went in the second round, while defensive tackle Louis Nix III and offensive guard Chris Watt were taken in the third round.
Tuitt went to the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 14th pick of the second round (46th overall).
“It’s a blessing to be part of this defense, and tremendous,” Tuitt said Friday in a conference call with reporters. “I can’t wait to get [to Pittsburgh] tomorrow and help this team and be part of an organization that many people don’t get a chance to be part of and I get a chance to be part of.”
After racking up 12 sacks in the 2012 season, Tuitt recorded 50 tackles and seven and a half sacks in his 2013 campaign. Tuitt had a sports hernia surgery after the 2012 season and did not participate in February’s NFL Scouting Combine because of a Jones fracture found in his left foot.
Steelers defensive line/assistant head coach John Mitchell said that while Tuitt’s injuries hurt his draft stock, they allowed the Steelers to draft a player who should have been taken earlier.
“The thing that I like about Stephon is that he can stack, he can shed, he can get off, and he can run to the ball,” Mitchell said. “If you look at him during his sophomore year [in 2012], this guy was probably one of the best defensive linemen in college.
“If this guy had been healthy coming into his junior year, he probably would have been in the top-ten guys drafted. We feel like we got a steal in the second round with our pick.”
Later in the round, the Arizona Cardinals took Niklas with the 20th selection of the second round (52nd overall).
“[The Cardinals] like their tight ends, so that’s a big advantage for me because I’m a tight end and I like to block and I like to catch passes,” Niklas said.
Niklas, who moved from linebacker to tight end after the 2011 season, recorded 37 receptions and six touchdowns over the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
“[Niklas is] a guy that in our mind has just started to scratch the surface on what he can become,” Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said. “At 6-foot-6, 270 pounds, he has a tremendous physique, great size, athleticism, and the upside is really scary when we look at the package.”
The Fullerton, Calif., native is the fifth-straight Notre Dame starting tight end to be selected in the first two rounds of the draft, joining first-round selection Tyler Eifert (2013) and fellow second-round selections Anthony Fasano (2006), John Carlson (2008) and Kyle Rudolph (2011). He is also the second former Irish player to be selected by the Cardinals in the last three years, as former Irish receiver Michael Floyd went to Arizona with the 13th pick of the 2012 NFL Draft.
After being largely projected as a late first round or second round pick, Nix III fell to the third round, where the Houston Texans took him with the 19th pick of the round (83rd overall).
After notching 50 tackles and two sacks in 2012, Nix III recorded 27 tackles in eight games last season, missing four of Notre Dame’s final five games as he underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus.
Nix III will join a Houston defensive line that includes 2012 AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, as well as this year’s No. 1 overall pick former South Carolina star Jadaveon Clowney.
Watt rounded out the second-day draft selections for the Irish, as he was chosen by the San Diego Chargers with the 25th pick of the third round (89th overall).
Watt made 37 starts, all of them at left guard, in his Notre Dame career. He is the second Irish player in as many years to be drafted by the Chargers, as former Irish linebacker Manti Te’o went to San Diego with the 38th overall pick in last year’s draft.
The draft concludes Saturday at Radio City Music Hall in New York City with its final four rounds.
Contact Brian Hartnett at [email protected].